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RMC players proud of father who played in 1968 Olympic hockey tournament

February 17, 2014

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

An Olympic bronze medal hangs proudly in the living room of the Pinder residence.

“Been there, in one spot, our whole lives,” Brett Pinder, who plays hockey at Royal Military College, says proudly.

Older brother Patrick, the middle of three Pinder brothers to play at RMC, says his father often talked proudly about his 1968 Olympic experience.

“One of his favourite memories (of hockey),” Patrick said.

It wasn’t always that way.

“It was by far the best,” Gerry Pinder said, “although I didn’t quite figure that one out very early.”

Pinder, 19 at the time, and his older brother, Herb, were members of the Canadian team that finished third in the hockey tournament of the 10th Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France. Canada wouldn’t win another Olympic hockey medal until 1992 but in 1968, for a Canadian hockey team overseas, anything less than gold was unacceptable.

The Grenoble tournament was a round-robin competition, without a playoff round, and as was the custom at the time, the final game pitted Canada against the Soviet Union. A win in that game would give Canada the gold medal, a tie the silver.

When the Canadians lost the game, 5-0, the team was vilified.

“The major reporters out of Toronto and Montreal, they absolutely skewered us for being bums,” Gerry Pinder recalled over the phone from California. “We couldn’t win gold (s0) we were no good; we didn’t represent Canada properly. We left the next morning and it was in the press when we got home.

“I didn’t even have a chance to reflect on the accomplishment. I had just missed three weeks of university and had to go right back to school. You put your medal away in a drawer and think about the criticism you took from the Canadian reporters, and it would be several years before I even looked at (the medal) again.”

After the Olympics, Pinder had a seven-year big-league professional career. He recalled the disappointment of being with Chicago in 1971 when the Black Hawks lost the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final to Montreal as being similar to how he felt after that gold-medal game in Grenoble.

“They always had Russia-Canada last (in international tournaments) because it was almost always for gold,” he said. “It was a heck of a game. We were down 2-0, late in the second period, and I got the puck in the slot and let it fly. (Viktor) Konovalenko was the goalie. It hit the top of his stick. It would have made it 2-1 and we would have been back in the game but instead they hammered us in the third period.

“We were very disappointed, but when you reflect back a number of years later, it was a pretty major accomplishment. I would argue that our accomplishment as amateurs against the very best pros from Russia and the other countries … is probably a greater accomplishment than Canada winning in 2010 with all the pros. Not to diminish what they did. It’s a tremendous accomplishment and I certainly understand what a great feeling it is playing for your country, but we were all pure amateurs. I think we were on $2,500 scholarships and we were playing against the very best in the world.”

Patrick Pinder, who scored a goal Friday in his final intercollegiate game at RMC — one day shy of exactly 46 years after his father scored against Sweden in the Olympics — said his father spoke of the experience.

“He said it was tough losing like that because everyone expected them to win,” Patrick said. “He said at the time he didn’t feel good, losing like that, but when he looks back on it, it was one of the most favourite memories he ever had.”

Gerry said the Canadian hockey community simply didn’t understand how good Russian hockey players were. That realization didn’t come for four more years, after the Soviets lost only one of the first four games of the 1972 Summit Series.

“I was in the National league at the time and I remember a couple of reporters calling me out of Toronto and they asked me my thoughts on the series against Russia,” Pinder said. “My response was that I thought Russia would probably win the series, five games to three.

“It was so outrageous to these reporters, I don’t even think it was printed, because they thought it was so outrageous.”

Patrick says his father regaled his sons with stories of playing on international-size ice — “he’d have to take a slapshot to make a cross-ice pass” — of the Japanese team at Grenoble — “every single day at 6 a.m. they’d go for a run, even after the tournament was done, they’d be up at 6 a.m., ripping around and yelling stuff” — and of his coach with the national team, Jackie McLeod, “an absolutely fantastic coach.”

“When he went into the national program he wasn’t a great skater,” Patrick said, “but Jackie McLeod worked on his skating all the time. That was his big thing. He said by the time he was done he was a pretty good skater, made him good enough to play in the NHL.”

Mostly, Patrick said, his father treasured his time with the national team.

“He liked playing for his country, and it was a great system. They all went to school at the University of Manitoba. It was a fun time for him.”

Retired from a career as a commercial realtor in Calgary, Gerry Pinder said his two years in the national program were “fantastic,” and he believes that if the NHL decides it doesn’t want its players in the Olympics in Korea in 2018, the format could work again.

“The only issue is what would happen with the other countries,” he said. “Would the Russians go anyway and defy the National league, defy their team owners? Probably not. Would the Swedes go anyway? Probably not. It might work because you’d be comparing apples to apples, a Canadian team to a similar format from other countries. If nobody (in the NHL) was allowed to go … Canada would have probably a better opportunity to win gold than we did because we were playing the very best from those countries.

“If the NHL wasn’t allowed to go and nobody could go, then Canada would be in pretty good shape for having a run at gold.”

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